Vermont district using online mental health services for students, staff

More than 400 students, employees and families in all four Montpelier Roxbury schools now have free access to online therapy using a program called Talkspace.
Published: Sep. 15, 2022 at 6:39 AM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - More than 400 students, employees, and families in all four Montpelier Roxbury schools now have free access to online therapy.

“We have been told by countless employees and students that there aren’t enough therapists in the Central Vermont area, so we are working with Talkspace to try to combat that need,” said Montpelier Roxbury School District Superintendent Libby Bonesteel.

She says as the pandemic continues, the district wants to provide opportunities for employee wellness and to help some social development pieces that might be missing in adolescents. “Hopefully, easy access to therapists will help bridge the gap a little bit in a way that schools just simply can’t because there are too many kids and not enough staff have resorted to provide the services,” said Bonesteel.

It’s reportedly the first time a Vermont district has used a national online program in this way. Talkspace allows participants to get two virtual therapy sessions a month and have unlimited text access to the therapist. The program costs the district $60,000 and Bonesteel says she’s using some of the district’s federal COVID funding. “If you think of $60,000 is less than a teacher, and if we had brought a teacher in or a social worker or counselor, then that person is very limited in the scope of who they can serve us and they’re certainly not servicing our employees, right or their families,” said Bonesteel.

According to the Vermont Department of Mental Health, there are more than 1,000 openings for provider and developmental service positions at the 10 state-designated agencies across Vermont. And the therapists who are in the state say they’re booked, with people who decided to prioritize their mental health during the pandemic.

“All of a sudden you have folks who may have been failing to prioritize before are now saying, ‘You know what, maybe I will do something about this’ -- at a time when there’s a staffing crisis. So, those two things are a bit at odds with each other,” said Alison Krompf, deputy mental health commissioner. She says Talkspace offers teens an opportunity. “We see it as a way to get out more youth, particularly teens right now. Their mental health was not doing well before the pandemic. We think all offers should be on the table.”

While online platforms can take away from in-state jobs, Krumpf says there aren’t enough people in Vermont to provide everyone with face-to-face support.

Since Talkspace is new to Montpelier Roxbury, there isn’t data yet to determine how many people are actually using it.

If you are in crisis and need help, dial 988.